The disappointment in Mikaela Shiffrin’s voice was palpable.
“Right now, I just feel like a joke,” she said.
Shiffrin had just skied out in the slalom portion of the women’s Alpine combined event, the third time she earned a “did not finish” at the 2022 Winter Olympics. A medal was certainly in play following the downhill portion, after which she sat in fifth place with a time of 1:32.98.
Despite her favorable position, and her experience as a slalom specialist, Shiffrin knew she didn’t want to play it safe in to protect her advantage. She didn’t want to just finish. She said she wanted to ski a “good, solid run of slalom,” as she had many times before in her highly decorated career.
“It was not actually that much to ask for from myself, and I was starting to do it,” she said.
But when she missed yet another gate, disqualifying her, Shiffrin was at a loss for words. She called the situation “mind-boggling.”
“I think that I actually had a really good start and got into my tempo, my rhythm, quite well,” she said. “I felt really full acceleration off the first gates, and I think back on my career, 47 different times that I had this feeling — the right balance of intensity, focus, the feeling I had on my skis — it always worked. It was always good, fast skiing, but I never had an issue not finishing.”
Later Thursday, Shiffrin posted a series of images with phrases that criticized her, including comments like “choker,” “can’t handle the pressure,” and “loseritis.” She also posted a personal message.
There are now more questions than answers for Shiffrin, who was hoping a medal in the Alpine combined, her fifth and final individual event in Beijing, could salvage her Games.
Instead, she will leave the Olympics shut out from the podium in individual events for the first time in her career. At PyeongChang in 2018, Shiffrin won gold in giant slalom and silver in Alpine combined. At Sochi in 2014, she won gold in slalom.
Adding to Shiffrin’s heartbreak is the fact that she was unable to finish any of her slalom races, her best events. She skied out early in both the giant slalom and slalom races, staying on the courses for a combined 16 seconds.
Her showing Thursday didn’t end nearly as quickly, but the fact that it once again ended prematurely left Shiffrin at a loss.
“I don’t really understand it, and I’m not sure when I’m going to have much of an explanation,” she said. “I can’t explain to you how frustrated I am to not know what I can learn from today.”
Shiffrin, who turns 27 in March, said that she felt “loose and relaxed” and didn’t consider pressure a contributing factor.
“In general, when I was racing, it wasn’t the case that that was something outrageous,” she said. “It certainly wasn’t more than I ever experienced in my career before. The pressure’s there, it’s always there. I don’t feel uncomfortable or even unfamiliar with it. Some days I’m a little more tight and it’s still possible to ski well.”
When asked to sum up her 2022 Winter Games, Shiffrin didn’t have the words, but she said expects much of the external conversation to be centered around her poor performance. As of now, that doesn’t seem to faze her.
“It’s really strange, but I’m not even afraid of that right now and maybe it’s because I don’t have any emotional energy to give any more,” she said.
Shiffrin does plan to compete in the mixed team parallel event, although, if you ask her, she’s not entirely sure why.
“The whole shebang in sport is that you can have preparation, you can have confidence, or maybe you’re not fully confident, you can have all of these pieces, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” she said. “I have literally no idea why we keep coming back and doing it. Especially after today.
“But I’m going to come back out tomorrow and ski some parallel GS, because I’m that much of an idiot. I don’t know why we keep doing it, but making good turns feels amazing. And I’ve been doing that these entire two weeks. I wish there was something to show for it.”
Despite the sadness and concern amid her struggles, Shiffrin — a three-time Olympic medalist and three-time overall World Cup champion — managed to express some confidence moving forward.
“I don’t think I’m going to DNF for the rest of my career,” she said. “I’m going to have a good mentality.”